How IoT is the Need of the Hour for COVID-19 Vaccine Shipment?
logo Shubham Rajpara
November 30, 2020 | 6 Min Read

How IoT is the Need of the Hour for COVID-19 Vaccine Shipment?

The month of November 2020 has witnessed the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic with two American pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and BioNTech, and Moderna successfully made a vaccine against coronavirus.

Both these vaccines have shown almost 95% efficacy that is more than enough to eradicate SARS COV2. Both these vaccines are seeking FDA approval in a matter of days. The US will roll out Pfizer made vaccines before Christmas.

Pfizer made vaccines

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Having said that, the vaccine making was only one gargantuan task to be successfully completed. Transporting the vaccine doses safely to the population is another that is yet to conquer successfully.

Vaccine

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1. Vaccine Transportation 

The cold chain storage system needs to brace for the heavy onslaught of vaccines around the world. In warm countries like India, Egypt, and South Africa, the challenge is more prominent. 

cold chain storage system

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It is by no means an easy task, given the touchpoints a vaccine needs to cover to reach an individual from the manufacturing unit. Vaccines often travel by road or air in trucks or airplanes, making stops at the distributor before arriving at the different cities of states.

From here, they are sent to local clinics and vaccination camps to reach every individual. Here they can be transported via cars, bikes, or even donkeys and camels. 

vaccine transportation

PHOTO: ILLUSTRATION BY THOMAS LECHLEITER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

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According to IATA, the International Air Transport Association's Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistic, 1/4th of vaccines are degraded by the time they arrive at their destination due to incorrect shipping procedures. Additionally, 20% of temperature-sensitive biopharmaceutical products, like plasma, get damaged in cold storage transit. 

Mahesh Veerina, CEO of Cloudleaf, a logistics and IoT sensor company, said, "These are very sensitive materials, and vaccines lose effectiveness the longer they are outside their target temperature range, whether too warm or too cold. They should be stored between -80 degrees Fahrenheit and 5 F if frozen, or 35 F to 46 F otherwise. "

Vaccine storage

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Talking about Pfizer's vaccine, as mentioned before, the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus, which is based on mRNA technology, requires to be stored at -70°C and needs to be injected within 10 days. 

These mandates hi-tech cold storage freezers limited in the market and are only restricted to medical facilities. They are expensive and can cost up to 20000 dollars apiece. 

Shockingly, every year losses incurred from vaccines exposed to fluctuating temperatures (also known as an excursion) are estimated at 34.1 billion dollars. This includes replacement cost, lost product cost, and wasted logistics.

Here is an analysis depicted the same by IATA.

Shefali Kapadia / Supply Chain Dive, analysis by IATA

2. Role of IoT in Vaccine Shipment 

As mentioned above, many variables can come into play that may deter the suitable conditions required for a vaccine not to spoil. The most important factor in controlling to keep a vaccine functioning before injected is obviously -- temperature! 

IoT devices can help vaccine manufacturers keep track of vaccines' temperature even in cold storage when the vaccine doses leave the manufacturing unit. So when unavoidable circumstances like power cut, delay in transit, etc., occurs, manufacturers back in the unit can control the temperature. This can be done with IoT sensors placed on every pallet, case, or unit of the vaccines, tracked through their journey.

IoT Tracking

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Since IoT tracking is already in use in some biopharmaceutical logistics. Manufacturers now can get the data to identify weak links along the supply chain, for example, to know precisely when and for how long do temperatures change at a specific point in the transit. 

3. Examples of IoT Applications in Tackling the Coronavirus Pandemic 

Tracking the Vaccine temperature in Cold Storage with IoT sensors

Cloudleaf

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Cloudleaf’s flagship product, the Supply Chain Digital Visibility Platform, delivers complete, real-time views and insights across the ecosystem from suppliers through production and distribution to customers using IoT sensors. 

The IoT sensors can read light, temperature, humidity, and manufacturing details like serial numbers. As per the client requirements, the manufacturer specifies these parameters' band ranges by programming the sensors accordingly. 

Any violation in the said parameters and the IoT sensors alerts the stakeholders, noting the specifics and product location. Here's a screenshot of Cloudleaf's dashboard denoting light, temperature, humidity, and manufacturing details such as serial or lot numbers. 

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Furthermore, Mahesh Veerina added that these sensors have cell memory to store information if cloud upload and wireless communication are not immediately available. 

IoT-enabled sensors store all data in the cloud, making it easy for everyone involved in the vaccine delivery process to stay aware and access the quality at every touchpoint. 

For instance, when a healthcare organization receives a batch of vaccine products, the organization would be able to check the dashboard to review its past location, delay in time in the journey, temperature logs, and chain of custody before signing off on the product. 

But even before the batch of vaccines get this far, the manufacturer would know if a batch of vaccines was out of the proper temperature range and unusable before reaching the healthcare organization. IoT-enabled sensors can help, especially during this time when keeping vaccines from getting spoiled is crucial, as right now, each vaccine dose equals saving countless lives. 

Tracking proper handling of blood plasma for COVID-19 Convalescent plasma therapy

Helping with vaccine transportation is not going to be the first time, the internet of things technology will help mankind tackle the ongoing calamity of coronavirus. Until now, IoT sensors are helping medical staff to carry out Convalescent plasma therapy. 

This therapy process requires removing the liquid part of the blood (plasma) from infected and cured COVID patients and transfusing it into infected patients. IoT-enabled cold storage system helps medical staff to stop the wastage of blood plasma by spoilage through negligence during transit.

For instance, the IoT sensor will send a violation alert to all persons responsible if a blood bag lies on the desk for more than 90 minutes. 

IoT is the need of the hour, considering the fact that the first vaccine against coronavirus made by Pfizer requires the storage of -70°C, a task so daunting for warm countries like India that T Sundararaman, a New Delhi-based global coordinator of the People's Health Movement, stated, "...just forget it!" 

Detecting Coronavirus Hotspots before the patients even contacted doctors

Kinsa Inc., a health technology company, based out of the US, started making smart thermometers in 2012. These smart thermometers were created to track potential flu hotspots and prevent its spread across the US. 

When a patient measures their temperature, the reading is automatically stored in the cloud, and is accessible to the government, and healthcare professionals. The personal identification of the patient remains anonymous. With the collected data, one can't identify the person, but can identify clusters of fevers across the country. 

Kinsa's smart thermometers came in handy during the coronavirus pandemic. In mid-march, Kinsa thermometers tracked fever across the States, this, was the first-ever database the government and health professionals ever had to track the coronavirus pandemic. When the government imposed a lockdown, the company saw a decline in fever cluster after 3-7 days, due to social distancing. 

These smart IoT devices play a pivotal role in helping the government and healthcare professionals stay a step ahead of this coronavirus pandemic.

Conclusion 

As I write this, the news is that the first batch of Pfizer's vaccines are reaching the US from Belgium, where they're manufactured at. Also, today (1st December 2020) Food and Drug Association held a meeting for emergency approval of the second vaccine against coronavirus by Moderna.

We are witnessing the end of a horrid medical emergency that has managed to ravage the entire world population in more than one way. Science and technological advancements in IoT and AI continue to be the forbearers in healing the world, and in this case, saving lives and bringing back normalcy. 

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